Yemen: deadly strike on houses in Sana'a last month was with US-made bomb - new evidence

Saudi-led coalition admitted carrying out attack, but blamed civilian casualties on ‘technical error’

Photograph of five-year-old girl Buthaina highlighted horror of the attack - new video available

Findings come after UK weapons, including cluster bombs, also used in deadly attacks killing civilians in Yemen

‘The UK simply won’t look like an honest broker unless it supports moves to set up an independent and international inquiry into possible war crimes by all parties to the dreadful conflict in Yemen’ - Polly Truscott

A bomb that destroyed a residential building in Yemen's capital last month, killing 16 civilians and injuring 17 more - including a five-year-old girl called Buthaina whose photograph went viral in the strike’s aftermath - was made in the USA, Amnesty International has revealed today (22 September).

The 25 August airstrike hit a cluster of houses in Sana’a, severely damaging three of them, and killing seven children including all five of Buthaina’s brothers and sisters, as well as both her parents. Eight other children were injured, amongst them two-year-old Sam Bassim al-Hamdani, whose parents were also both killed.

The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition admitted carrying out the attack, blaming civilian casualties on a “technical error”. 

An Amnesty arms expert has analysed remnants of the weapon that was used and found that it bears clear markings matching US-made components commonly used in laser-guided air-dropped bombs. After examining photographic evidence provided by a local journalist who dug out weapon fragments at the site, Amnesty’s expert was able to positively identify the data plate from a US-made MAU-169L/B computer control group. It is a part used in several types of laser-guided air-dropped bombs.

According to the Defence Security Cooperation Agency, in 2015 the US government authorised the sale of 2,800 guided bombs to Saudi Arabia that were equipped with the MAU-169L/B computer control group, including GBU-48, GBU-54, and GBU-56 guided bombs.

The Saudi-led coalition launched the devastating attacks in Faj Attan, a residential area of Sana’a, at around 2am on 25 August. Ali al-Raymi, 32, lost his brother Mohamed al-Raymi along with his sister-in-law and his five nieces and nephews aged between two and ten. His niece, five-year-old Buthaina, was the sole survivor. He told Amnesty:

“When you ask her ‘what do you want?’, she says ‘I want to go home’ … She thinks that if she goes home, she will find them [her family] there … She had five siblings to play with. Now she has none … What kind of sorrow and pain could she be feeling in her heart?”

According to the United Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1,120 children have been killed (and 1,541 injured) since the beginning of the conflict in March 2015. In the past year alone, more than half of these child casualties were attributed to coalition airstrikes. The Huthi-Saleh forces, as well as anti-Huthi forces on the ground, have also committed violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. According to the OHCHR, the Huthi-Saleh forces are responsible for the majority of child casualties caused by ground fighting, shelling and the use of banned antipersonnel landmines.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said:

“We can now conclusively say that the bomb that killed Buthaina’s parents and siblings, and other civilians, was made in the USA. 

“There simply is no explanation the USA or other countries such as the UK and France can give to justify the continued flow of weapons to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition for use in the conflict in Yemen. It has time and time again committed serious violations of international law, including war crimes, over the past 30 months, with devastating consequences for the civilian population.

“It is shameful that instead of holding the coalition accountable for their actions in Yemen, key allies including the USA and the UK have continued to supply it with huge quantities of arms.

“The coalition’s complete disregard for civilian lives, as well as their lack of commitment to effective investigations, highlights the need for an independent international inquiry to look into alleged violations of international law.”

‘Technical’ error’ blamed

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has admitted carrying out the devastating Faj Attan attack, but said civilian casualties were the result of a “technical error”. The coalition claims it targeted a “legitimate military objective” belonging to Huthi-Saleh forces. According to local residents, one of the buildings in the area was frequented by a Huthi-aligned individual. Amnesty was not able to confirm his identity, role or whether he was present at the time of the attack. However, even if there were military objectives in the vicinity, international humanitarian law prohibits disproportionate attacks, including those expected to kill or injure civilians. A coalition spokesperson has said the incident has been referred to the coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team for further investigations. To date, Amnesty is not aware of any members of the coalition taking concrete steps to investigate, take disciplinary measures against or prosecute officers suspected of criminal responsibility for war crimes during the conflict in Yemen.

UK-made weapons have also killed civilians in Yemen

Last year, Amnesty published evidence showing the Saudi-led coalition had used UK-manufactured cluster munitions in northern Yemen, as well as evidence of US and Brazilian cluster munitions being used by coalition forces. One UK cluster bomb had apparently malfunctioned and left scores of deadly unexploded “bomblets” strewn over a wide area near a farm in Al-khadhra village in Hajjah governorate, six miles from the Saudi border. After months of denial, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon finally told the House of Commons that Saudi Arabia had admitted using UK-manufactured cluster munitions. Meanwhile, the previous year, a Yemeni civilian was killed by a British-manufactured cruise missile used by the Saudi-led coalition in an attack on a ceramics factory in Sana’a governorate. 

Since the conflict began in March 2015, the UK has sold £3.8 billion pounds worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, including dozens of BAE Systems-manufactured Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and related bombs and missiles.

Arms embargo and full inquiry needed

Amnesty is calling for the immediate implementation of a comprehensive embargo to ensure that no party to the conflict in Yemen is supplied with weapons, munitions, military equipment and technology that can be used in the conflict. 

Meanwhile, with the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva currently meeting to discuss the possibility of a resolution for a fully-independent and international inquiry into possible war crimes in Yemen, Amnesty is concerned that UK Government ministers are reportedly unwilling to support the establishment of such an inquiry.   

Amnesty International UK’s Foreign Affairs Analyst Polly Truscott said:
 

“Given the UK has sold billions of pounds’ of arms to Saudi Arabia at the same time that Saudi-led airstrikes have killed and injured thousands of civilians in Yemen, you might have thought the UK wouldn’t want to be accused of shielding Riyadh and its allies from proper scrutiny.

“The UK simply won’t look like an honest broker unless it supports moves to set up an independent and international inquiry into possible war crimes by all parties to the dreadful conflict in Yemen.”

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